How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
I studied Economics and Management but after doing a Master’s in International Development I really rejected the corporate world. After some time working in NGOs and start-ups, I realised that if I wanted business to change...I had to go into business. My father is also an entrepreneur so I grew up listening to stories of the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur.
When I did my Master’s degree I learnt a lot about the dark side of business, what in economics we call externalities. Unfortunately, while capitalism has given us so many benefits, we still haven't found an efficient way to control the negative side effects that often disproportionately affect poorer communities and the environment. I do believe business is changing though and the younger generations are placing a very high value on businesses that can provide a service without causing damage to the wider human community and environment. Nowadays, with the internet, no longer can companies hide the negative effects of their businesses practices by shipping production off to faraway lands without their customers finding out about it. The standards which businesses are being held to are being raised.
The Grassy Hopper is a real cult favourite and I think part of the secret to its success might be that not a lot of restaurants in Malta cater exclusively to vegetarians. What are your thoughts on carving out a niche for yourself in a crowded industry?
Well in general I think that not a lot of business put their stake in the ground and say ‘this is what we stand for.’ Values are often compromised in favour of profit or are just nice-sounding words which no-one in the company actually tries to uphold. My vision was always to prove that you can run a successful business without compromising your values, and as I said, I think times are changing so there is a lot more support for business such as ours. Having a niche product is easy and replicable...running a business which aims to help elevate humanity and without compromising your values is hard...but I believe this is the niche of the future.
Your newest venture is Sanya – can you tell me what it's all about?
If I imagine a space where I could create all the products and services which I most feel can benefit people, it would be Sanya. Both myself and my sister have gone through quite major transformations in our lifestyles and outlooks and Sanya is a space that allows us to manifest our deepest desires to help others find health and happiness. We really couldn't believe it when we were given the opportunity to create this project. It probably came a little bit early in our careers but we both felt that such a space was really needed in Malta. A space where people can relax, de-stress and learn about how to live a healthier lifestyle, all with the understanding that our health and peace of mind is our biggest tool in driving humanity forward. If we want to create innovators, inspired thinkers, brilliant designers and so on, we need to have a population that is maximising their energy and potential and connecting to something bigger themselves. Our mission is to help people do that.
With every new venture come new challenges and responsibilities. What's the biggest challenge you've ever encountered?
I think the pressure of running three different brands is my biggest challenge, and something that I am constantly learning how to manage. I do sometimes question my own belief that I can make my businesses work without compromising my values, but I strongly believe that going through moments of self-doubt is a necessary facet to my own growth and development as a human being. These kinds of challenges are common to every human despite what social media has us portraying about ourselves.
The Maltese business community tends to skew towards older and male. As a young woman who has founded a number of companies, how has your experience been?
I think being a woman is great, as with everything else, there are positive and negatives. Yes, sometimes the business community can be a bit chauvinistic but personally I have never let that get in the way of my vision. I think good ideas and good visions will always make their way to the top even if you may encounter a few more obstacles. Being a woman in business has many benefits so I prefer to focus on those.
What's the most important lesson you’ve learnt about business along the way?
It sounds cliché but business is all about hard work. I think you have to have a vision that touches you so deeply that you are ready to get through tough times. Business is not a sprint or a marathon...it’s a sprinting marathon!
What's your business philosophy?
I believe that business should reflect our genuine stewardship responsibilities not only to our company and human shareholders, but to the larger human community and our greatest shareholder, nature itself. I feel that we need to rise up to face the real challenge of the global environmental crises and transform ourselves into better people in the process.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
No major projects as I have a lot of work to do consolidating the current businesses, but there are of course many new things we will be bringing into these. One of the most exciting is that we are getting more serious about offering education opportunities at both Sanya and Grassy Hopper. In autumn we are launching new yoga and meditation courses and teacher trainings at Sanya and nutrition and cooking courses at Grassy Hopper.